Liverpool’s opponents for today’s Premiership clash have been working hard in readiness for the visit of the European Champions. Manchester City are two places above Liverpool in the league at the moment, although Liverpool do have two games in hand. City are planning to increase the gap between the two sides to five points with a win at home.
Manager Stuart Pearce says that the most important aspect of today’s game will be the tempo. It’s a word Rafa Benitez often uses, and Pearce feels that the meeting with the Reds will bring a chance for his City players to put their hard work in training to good use: “We have done our homework but I just have a feeling this is one of those games which is about the way we play and the tempo we set. I am desperate to get a high tempo into our game, especially at home. We have worked on it with the players this week and we are ready to take them on.” Certainly Liverpool teams in recent under-achieving years were uncomfortable when opponents closed them down quickly, and today could be a test of how well Rafa Benitez has improved that aspect to their game.
Liverpool’s run of four successive wins came to and end with a goalless draw in the Champions League midweek, but a draw was all the Reds needed that night. Pearce feels that Liverpool will be trying harder today to get all three points, unlike City’s last opponents: “Liverpool have picked up after a sluggish start and whereas Blackburn wanted a point and got one last week, they will probably not see getting a point from Manchester City as a particularly good result. The way Liverpool set their aspirations, they will feel if they don’t win, they will be falling away from the Champions League spots and also the championship itself.”
Pearce wants a repeat of last year’s result when City hosted Liverpool, and if he gets it he knows it will be a big boost to his players: “I know what we are trying to achieve here and what a good result is to me. When we beat Liverpool last year it gave us a big lift and another victory would have just the same effect.”
One player hoping to help bring about that boost to the City side is former Anfield hero Robbie Fowler. Fowler has again been out injured recently, but a successful run-out for City’s reserves midweek means Pearce could give him a place on the bench.
City have another Reds supporter amongst their number today – 20-year-old Lee Croft. Croft was born in Wigan, but with his mother coming from Croxteth he was brought up a Red. An England under-19 international, Croft has never stopped supporting the Reds. He has been a little disappointed in the start they made to the season, but feels they’ll be back at the top end of the table before the season’s out: “I like Liverpool but they should be doing better than they are. I am sure their league form will pick up though and they will be up near the top at the end of the season.”
His love for Liverpool will be put to one side this afternoon if he gets his wish of playing against them: “It would mean an awful lot to play against them and they have a lot of good players we will have to stop. We know their strengths and weaknesses but we have to try to impose our game on them.”